back to article TV transport tech, part 1: From server to sofa at the touch of a button

Ah, the magic of television. With the press of a button and the twist of a knob, the residents of homes around the country could cosy up for an evening's entertainment as the set warmed up to a steady monochrome glow – with the lucky ones able to tune in to BBC 2. Virgin Media Digital Media Centre Virgin Media Digital Media …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    This is the main reason reason I read the reg. These sort of articles, for me, are really illuminating.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Agreed. I expect it brings out the (not so closet) geek in many of us. As much as we might enjoy whinging and bitching about VM and laughing about their failures, it's still impressive and eye-opening to see what they do achieve and how they do it.

  2. Oli 1

    Very interesting read - more of this please!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why don't you tap up the BBC

      It must be a Public Service to let the public know how they get their content and push it out to the Masts/VM/Sky etc.

  3. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Leading UK cable network operator Virgin Media

    Yup. Of all the cable operators in the UK Virgin Media is without doubt the leader ;)

    Good article though, would be interesting to have others looking at the transmission chain for satellite broadcasting and that of IPTV.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Of all the cable operators in the UK Virgin Media is without doubt the leader "

      I think you'd find it widely acknowledged that they're also by far the worst big one in the UK.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Malaria - the world's most popular disease

  4. hammarbtyp

    Interesting article

    Never seen a Virgin's bellend, sorry, headend before

  5. kmac499

    Fascinating, I just about kept up 'til page 2.

    But here's a thought as these guys can demonstrably design build and run a large complex and secure distributed network. Why aren't we hiring them to run, and offer really useful online services?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      It is highly unusual for most organizations to be competent, let alone efficient.

      There is also the unwritten rule that you never hire people smarter than you are and if you do, you make sure they are total social failures. That way your job will be safe despite their higher IQ.

    2. Barry Rueger

      Why aren't we hiring them to run, and offer really useful online services?

      I've always thought: why doesn't <large company or government> just hire Amazon to design and run their web systems?

      Whatever you may think of Amazon's business practices, they have by far the most consistently easy to use retail front end anywhere on the 'net.

  6. circusmole

    All that effort...

    ...for content that is 99% junk :-)

    1. Michael Shelby

      Re: All that effort...

      And people keep sending them money for it!

      1. P. Lee

        Re: All that effort...

        > And people keep sending them money for it!

        The joy of direct debit!

    2. Agios Vasilis tou Stalingrad

      Re: All that effort...

      All this RF-to-IP back to RF again reminds me of the Three Stooges working on the plumbing in the basement. Someday the whole path will be IP from the file or camera to the viewer's display (at least in the advanced economies of the northern hemisphere). That will happen when someone like Google steps in and buys the broadcast rights to the NFL or the Premiere League. Until then, we'll just keep heating the atmosphere w/this archaic RF delivery platform and the cultural shit it requires to fill 750MHz of spectrum

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: All that effort...

        Erm, IP is carried by RF down any given pipe. The form of RF depends entirely on the characteristics (e.g. length, width, uni/bidirectional) of the pipe. Broadcast is not the same world as the interweb.

        1. Agios Vasilis tou Stalingrad

          Re: All that effort...

          Let me be more specific,HD-SDI (or FC/IP if from a server) -> DVB -> IP -> DVB is ludicrous and both capex/opex wasteful (all those fabrics and transport translators to install and manage). Also, if you don't think that the web will eventually absorb broadcast, then why is Rupert Murdoch so terrified by Google? And it's not only because they have 10x more cash than he does!

          1. P. Lee

            Re: All that effort...

            Google have millions of android devices which could double as STB's, they've got chromecast and you can bet there are plenty of phone+TV android devices in China.

            IP provides a more reliable transport than RF, and allows for caching, so that makes sense. RF is far better than IP for mass distribution so that makes sense too. Until someone gets multicast working well through ISP's not much is going to change there. With Google starting ISP activity in the US, things may begin to move. If anyone has the ability to gather and sell your TV-viewing habits to marketers, its Google. Google can also do "web-scale" authentication which might be handy too.

            Google is also not beholden to the content providers and they don't have existing profit margins or business model to protect in this sector which makes them a dangerous competitor. I'd be nervous too if my business depended on the goodwill of my suppliers not to go with a distributor who could provide much better feedback data and who is much larger than me.

  7. juski

    I read about VM re-encoding the same feeds Sky send to directly to customers but wasn't sure they'd do it because of the losses multiple codec cycles entail. Mind you, for anything else to happen Sky would need to provide VM with the higher quality source feeds. Who was I kidding?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It works better than it used to, but when it comes down to it VM need control of the bitrates down their own pipes. There are ways of transrating without a full decode/encode, e.g. requantisation, but almost noone on this side of the pond uses them.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Street cabinets

    There is a VM street cabinet in my front hedge - but I am not a subscriber. At some point in history the lock has been broken. One cable has been trapped in the door hinge and the torn insulation shows inner wires - even bare ones.

    Every so often I notice that the door is swinging open in the wind - and I fix it with a daisychain of cable ties round the box. Every time there is an installation change then my cable ties are removed - but in many years they have never fixed the lock.

  9. David Paul Morgan

    Interesting terminology...

    ... You make mention of a 'set top box',

    but in all my years of adding gadgets to TV's (VHS, BSB, Astra/Sky, DVD+RW, NTL Digital, Sky digital, Virgin Media PCR, Humax PVR, Xbox/PS3) I have NEVER ONCE either installed my own devices to sit on top of the TV not have any of my friends.

    They always go UNDER the TV.

    In the age of 'waffer thin' TV's , a SetTop Box is a near impossibility!

    NTL/Virgin have done a great job, despite being shafted by BSkyB/NewsInternational IMHO

    1. Alister

      Re: Interesting terminology...

      Set-top box

      I think it's an Americanism, and certainly, from my extensive research (watching Simpsons) it would appear that they used to place these devices on top of the television.

      However, as you say, in this age of LED widescreens there's not much room to balance the satellite, DVD, VHS, Playstation, XBox and kitchen sink on top anymore...

      1. Mage

        Re: Interesting terminology...


        The UK Band III converter to add ITV to TVs that only had Band I BBC (made before 1955 or 1954) was a set top box. The TV then was as deep as a record player.

        1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: Interesting terminology...

          errr...sorry....."record player"? you've lost me now. Is that one of those large footprint analogue MP3 players?

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Interesting terminology...

      They were doing our corporate video last week on a Canon 5D

      They still shout "cut"

  10. Dan Paul

    That confirms what I thought.....(@Alister)

    That the only things that Brittons understand about the USA is from our television shows.

    So sorry that's where Britains level of knowledge of the USA is from too.

    For reference, most Americans are far more intelligent than the "Simpsons" would depict and 99% of American television is NOT expected to be "educational" or "realistic"! (including our "news".)

    1. Alister

      Re: That confirms what I thought.....(@Alister)

      Dan, I'm sorry that you failed to understand the tongue-in-cheek nature of my post, and would like to reassure you that I don't think that all Americans are like Homer Simpson.

      I've seen Dukes of Hazzard, The A Team, and Dallas, so I know that isn't true...

      Oh by the way, most Brittons don't speak with a Cockney accent, or go dancing about on roofs with a chimney sweep's brush either, and nor do we sound like BBC announcers of the fifties.

      Just FYI...


      1. Dan Paul

        Re: That confirms what I thought.....(@Alister)

        Since there is no sarcasm tag or icon here, it is impossible to tell when Brittons are being sarcastic or just being anti-american. The latter is FAR more frequent.

        Take yer dang tongue outta yer cheek and get offa my lawn! Whippersnappers the lot of ya.

        For the record, and as has been my experience here; a very large percentage of Reg commentards seem to be anti-American by default (Damn downvoting Terrorists anyway) and apparently DO think the Simpsons are an example of the way most Americans act (OOH, Doughnuts, D'oh!). Before the Simpsons, the three TV shows you mentioned (along with most soap operas) are considered to be a bloody European tutorial on how to be an American. Hell, YOU mentioned Dallas, not me, I would have shot JR.

        Most of us Americans, at least those in my generation; gave up on the Disney Studios/Dick van Dike representation of the typical Britton when we were nine or ten. Then we followed the Beatles/British Invasion interpretation until The Rolling Stones were in vogue here. And then we got high, and then we got high, etc. When we woke up, most of us really didn't care about the rest of the world. We were too busy dealing with war, life, kids and work. Some of us even stopped making sweeping generalizations about other countries and their people.

        Note I said "some of us".

        1. Snivelling Wretch

          Re: That confirms what I thought.....

          I think you all mean "Briton". Britton = Fern Britton

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: That confirms what I thought.....(@Alister)

      "For reference, most Americans are far more intelligent than the "Simpsons" would depict "

      Uh, no. They aren't.

    3. Mike Pellatt

      Re: That confirms what I thought.....(@Alister)

      @Dan Paul: Thank you so much for enhancing the Brit stereotype of our transatlantic cousins as being unable to understand anything with ferrous content.

      1. Gazareth

        Re: That confirms what I thought.....(@Alister)

        But all americans are yellow and have 4 digits, right?

  11. pctechxp

    Very interesting

    More articles like this.

    Any chance of finding out the inner workings of Openreach?

    1. hplasm

      Re: Very interesting

      Openreach? Twinned with Mos Eisley (q.v.)

  12. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    Great article, but spoilt by.....

    "You won't believe how much goes into today's telly tech"

    I realise it's likely the subheading was probably not added by the author, but PLEASE El Reg, stop using brain-dead ''buzzfeedisms".

    They are obnoxious, patronising, and part of the dumbing-down culture.

    You'll find that the majority of the readership here will 'believe' this article. Further, I'm sure a decent percentage not only believe it, but knew it already.

    Please stick to innuendoes, childish humour, and nob jokes, like you do best!

  13. Christian Berger

    And all of that effort, just because of the lack of multicast on the Internet...

    ...and a severely broken copyright system which forces/allows TV stations to limit their broadcast area.

    Just think how differently radio on the Internet is. Today you can tune into virtually every radio station in the world from wherever you are. It's like shortwave, only often in "better than FM" quality.

    We could have the same with television. The step from 128 kbit/s audio to 1024kbit/s video isn't big enough to make it infeasible.

    Television used to be different. Back in the 1990s, you just started your TV station and put it onto a satellite. Everybody in Europe could just receive it. Television was a lot more European, it didn't know as many boundaries as it does now. Today when I order "Cartoon Network" in English on my cable company, I get a monstrosity known as "Cartoon Network Deutschland", which has very little to do with the real "Cartoon Network" as it only shows shows which have been dubbed to German... which means that those shows have been shown on other channels for years and are continuously repeated. The result is something more akin to "Pop" than Cartoon Network.

  14. tobo

    Source Material Quality

    It sounds like the majority of virgin medias content is re-broadcast sky satellite streams, with the exceptions being the direct HDSDI streams form the BBC and probably some other larger broadcast groups (QVC perhaps? Sky.. Unlikely.) There is absolutely no way for one already compressed stream to be decoded, re-encoded, re-encrypted and redistributed in better quality than its source, the very best audio and picture quality they can hope to achieve is "subjectively looks and sounds the same" So I read this as people who care about the picture and audio quality of their TV shouldn't get virgin media.

    1. Mike Pellatt

      Re: Source Material Quality

      Yeah, but they've got sodding great dishes so a slightly heavy rainstorm won't cut the signal off. Or the neighbour's tree growing across the line of sight.

    2. Zack Mollusc

      Re: Source Material Quality

      As a virgin media customer, I can confirm the low picture quality. I see compression artifacts on my 28 inch CRT telly, so christ knows how bad it must look on a modern big screen. Fortunately, the content is so rubbish that I don't mind the low picture quality it is presented in.

  15. the-it-slayer

    Virgin Media is great and all that...

    ...but they have a nuisance mechanism to chuck people off their cable network if they find too much noise coming from a particular source into their street cabs. We had our phone/internet + ondemand services cut off by senior engineers who regularly check cabs. Then normal process is to wait for the customer to call saying their services are offline. After which the home engineer comes down and fixes the issues. Got a £5 rebate on my bill but t'was a tad annoying.

    Lovely tech (nice to see how it's all built together) but their customer service needs some what improving to communicate what the hell goes wrong.

    1. Zack Mollusc

      Re: Virgin Media is great and all that...

      If they cut my service, I will just cancel the direct debit and look elsewhere. I have an open fire so they can send as many letters as they like.

  16. Suricou Raven

    Why all the CAM super-security?

    The content is all on the pirate bay anyway.

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